Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Dead Women of Juarez: A Review

I spent my weekend engrossed in this book. The Dead Women of Juarez is a fictional story about a very real ongoing tragedy in Juarez, Mexico.

At least 400 women and girls have been raped, tortured, and murdered in Juarez in the past 20 years. Hundreds more women are still missing and some locals estimate the real number of murders and disappearances to be in the thousands.

I participated in a demonstration about this when I was a freshman in college. I've talked about it a little before. It involved raw meat all over the quad. Aforementioned raw meat was supposed to be clean, white bones to symbolize these women being found in the desert as nothing but bleached bones.

I thought that this was old news, but apparently it is on-going. Efforts and attention are being diverted due to the growth of the drug cartels. But women are still being murdered.

Just a couple weeks ago, 12 people were arrested for their involvement in the murders of 11 young women who they had kidnapped, forced into prostitution and killed after they were "no longer of use." This has been a rare taste of justice as corruption and organized crime have made investigations and convictions nearly impossible.

And, as this article points out, international and political pressure by groups like Amnesty International have actually kind of backfired in this crisis. The police, being under pressure to solve these crimes, don't do a through job to make sure the right person is convicted. So, then we have two victims, the violated woman and the innocent man behind bars.

However, without international attention and political pressure, nothing would be done at all. The cultures of machismo and marianismo devalue the life of women, particularly if that woman works or attends school outside the home. Many of the victims were students and/or factory workers. Without the outside pressure, arguably, no one (but the victims' families) would care at all.

NY Times
Back to the book: It is a page-turner. It's also very thought-provoking and depressing. The conclusion is satisfying, but it will not wipe the crimes from your mind. There are drugs, sex, foul language and violence in the book, but those topics are all covered tastefully. Sam Hawken, the author, wrote this book to bring attention back to this horrendous crisis. It certainly opened my eyes and I hope it will open your eyes too.

Lumen Fidei #11: At First We See Dimly

No, that's not James. This kid has a lot more hair.
From #30: Joined to hearing, seeing then becomes a form of following Christ, and faith appears as a process of gazing, in which our eyes grow accustomed to peering into the depths.
This quote reminds me of Paul's first letter to the Corinthians:
For we know partially and we prophesy partially, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things. At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known. - 1 Corinthians 13:9-12 
One of the most liberating things about Catholicism is it's understanding of conversion. It's not a one time deal. You're not "born again" and then your done. You have to choose every single day to follow Jesus. (Note: I know that many more mainstream Protestant churches share the same idea.)

Our faith takes more than a lifetime to understand. It takes an entire lifetime to even begin to grasp God and His love. I know grandparents who still don't know God's will for their lives.

To read more of this series on Pope Francis' first encyclical, visit here.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Can a Muslim Tell Us Anything About Jesus?

Yesterday, my Facebook newsfeed was on fire with two things. One, Pope Francis' comments about gays. And two, a Fox interview with Reza Aslan, the author of Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.
The so-called news channels (Source)
Now, I refuse to judge a man based on an interview on a so-called news channel. What passes for journalism today is nothing more than thinly veiled propaganda. I'm reading his book. I'll be reviewing it later.

But the main question I ask is: Can a non-Christian tell Christians anything about Jesus?

I think they can. Two of my favorite paintings of Jesus were done by non-Christians.

This is a painting of Jesus done by a Buddhist using some traditional symbolism found in pictures of Bodhisattvas. Jesus is situated in a desert and directly behind him is the cross. He's seated on a lotus, which symbolizes purity and non-attachment. Both of those are among the highest values for a Buddhist to attain. Between his hands is a tiny heart. That was my latest discovery looking at this picture. I've looked at it for 8 or 9 years now and I'm still finding little things like that to meditate upon.

The White Crucifixion by Marc Chagall (Source)
This one is apparently one of Pope Francis' favorites too. It places Jesus' crucifixion squarely in the history of persecution endured by the Jewish people. Jesus was a Jew. He was born and he died a good Jewish boy. The roots of our faith and practices are all in Judaism. Judaism deserves our utmost respect.

I look forward to the day when my family gets to move into a house with more wall-space so I can hang my copies of these paintings up again.

I think it's valuable to see Jesus through non-Christian eyes. Seeing something fresh gives you a new perspective. From their religious traditions, they might see something in Jesus that you do not see and that always gives good food for thought. As long as we approach it with a discerning spirit, we can never learn enough about our Lord.

Mothers are Dying in Childbirth in the US

While researching for an NPR interview, I found an inspiring project online called The Safe Motherhood Quilt Project. The woman who is in charge of this project is collecting the names and stories of women who died due to complications in childbirth (or late-term abortion) to bring attention to the horrible maternal mortality rate here in the US. The United States spends more on medicine than nearly anyone else, but we have the highest infant and maternal mortality rate in the industrialized world. Where is all of that money going if it's not to save infants and mothers lives?

There are many reasons why this is happening. Here I list only a few:

1) The overuse of c-sections. Even in a scheduled routine c-section, the mother is twice as likely to die than if she had a vaginal birth.

2) Poor health care for poor people. Women living in poverty are far more likely to die from complications in childbirth than rich women.

3) Poorly staffed medical facilities and poor communication among staff. Many times when a woman dies in childbirth it is because the signs that something was wrong were not noticed or not reported until it was too late. I know medical personnel are only human and they take their jobs very seriously, but they need the support and the tools to do their job better.

For more information: Amnesty International Report

Monday, July 29, 2013

Lumen Fidei #10: Love is not an Emotion

From #27: Love cannot be reduced to an ephemeral emotion.
I don't need to reinvent the wheel, so here is a link to my article I posted a while back on

To read more of this series about Pope Francis' first encyclical, go here.

Eleven-Year-Old Reopens Abortion Debate in Chile

Right now, a debate rages in Chile.* Abortion is illegal there, but we have learned recently of an 11-year-old girl who is pregnant from years of abuse in the hands of her mother's boyfriend. She wants to keep the child. Pro-choice activists are using her case to fight for abortion rights.

Of course, unless it's in self-defense, I'm not all for killing the "terrorists" either.
So, would the pro-choice people force her to have an abortion? Arguably, she is not old enough to make a choice. She wasn't old enough to have her virginity stolen from her (or to consent). But she has other options. She could give the child up in an open adoption so that she could watch the child grow up without being financially responsible for him or her. It's also possible that a family member could adopt the baby so she could help raise the child without having the main responsibility for him or her. Those are just two of her options.

But the bottom line here is that it's not the child's fault that his or her father committed such a barbarous act. I hope the rapist gets punished to the fullest extent of the law. I hope the girl gets protected from further acts of violence and her mother's stupidity. Her mother is defending the rapist for crying out loud. But the unborn child doesn't deserve the death penalty.

I do not know any of her medical specifics so I know nothing about her physical ability to give birth to the child. I'd have to trust the doctors caring for her. My understanding is that Chile has some of the best maternity care in this hemisphere, unlike the US...

That rant is coming soon.

*For those who want to hear about it from a secular source, here is the CNN article.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Lumen Fidei #9: The Need for Knowledge


From #24: ...we need knowledge, we need truth, because without these we cannot stand firm, we cannot move forward.
How do we know what is real? Without a firm grasp of what is real, we cannot really interact with the world around us. An example that was used frequently in my philosophy classes was:
We need to have an idea of what is real to even get out of bed in the morning. When you swing your legs over to get out of bed, you have to trust that there is a floor there that will hold you up.
Reality cannot be completely subjective or there will be chaos. There has to be an up and down, a right and wrong, a true and false. Otherwise, we cannot get out of bed in the morning, much less make any real choices, changes, or movement in our lives.

To read more of this series on Pope Francis' first encyclical, go here.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Church's Strange Relationship with Apocryphal Literature

Today is the feast day of Mary's parents, Sts. Joachim and Anne. Thinking of them reminds me of this icon I saw a while back in a blog post by Christopher West:

Source that TOB Institute credits
In the post, he talks about how this icon illustrates for him the beauty of chaste marital love. In this icon, you see the saints embracing and in the background is a bed. It is supposed to depict the great mystery which is Mary's Immaculate Conception.

What is that? Catholics believe that Mary, the virgin Mother of God, was conceived without original sin. Original sin is a stain that we are all born with from Adam and Eve's fall in the garden. Mary was conceived without this sin because she was destined to be the Mother of God. God cannot be in the presence of sin, so His earthly vessel, Mary, had to be without sin. This is also credited to Jesus' sacrifice on the cross. As time is no barrier to God, Jesus' sacrifice made His mother's sinlessness possible. We are all redeemed through Christ including those who were born before He was.

Now, Joachim and Anne are not mentioned in the Bible. How do we know who they are? That is where this gets fun because I get to play Bible scholar again.

We are told in every other History Channel Bible special that the big, bad Catholic Church suppressed the wonderful literature found in the apocryphal gospels. This feast day is a prime example of how wrong that is.

Joachim and Anne's names and everything else we know about them comes from an apocryphal book. Yes, you read that correctly.

The book is called the Protoevangelium of James. "Protoevangelium" is just a fancy word for "pre-Gospel." The book is a "pre-Gospel" because most of it revolves around things that happened before Jesus' birth like the childhood of Mary and the events of Jesus' early life like running from Herod.

Ever seen a statue or a picture of St. Joseph holding a staff with a lily, like so?

That comes from the same book. At one point, it tells the story of how St. Joseph came to be betrothed to Mary. The story goes that St. Joseph and other widowers brought their staffs to the temple. St. Joseph's staff bloomed, indicating that he was the one chosen by God to take Mary as his wife.

So it seems that the Church didn't suppress the apocryphal gospels at all, but incorporated some of their legends into it's rich treasury.

So, how was the New Testament established if it wasn't some judgement pontificated from on high? (Pun completely intentional.)

It was an organic process over the first few centuries of Christianity. As Christianity grew, groups of Christians used a wide variety of texts based on what the group's views were and whatever was available in their time and place. Over time, it became apparent that if Christianity was to survive, they needed some kind of standard. They used a variety of standards to determine what would eventually become part of the New Testament canon:

1) There were several books that were widely used by most groups. Those books were mostly shoe-ins.

2) Preference was given to books that contained stories told by the apostles themselves.
3) Also, they stuck to books that were similar. Books that contained bizarre stories or doctrine not found anywhere else were thrown out.

But no books were suppressed. Over the first 4 centuries when these decisions were being made, Christianity itself was being suppressed and persecuted. No one Christian group had the power or the visibility to suppress another.

When Christianity did become institutionalized, certain groups that used these writings were suppressed, but the writings themselves were not.

In short, it wasn't ever about power, but about the need for standardization. But that isn't what we're taught because it isn't neat and tidy. It's much easier to blame the Church. Anything organic is messy and takes a lot longer to explain.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Lawn Chair Catechism #9: Life (and Conversion) is Messy

This is my contribution to a conversation happening on about Sherry Weddell's book Forming Intentional Disciples. This book has been eye-opening for me. I highly recommend it and it's never too late to join the conversation.

I found it very liberating earlier in the book when Weddell points out that the stages of conversion are not always in order and we are always bouncing around.

I know I've been in the intentional disciple phase before, but I know I'm not now.

I would now put myself back maybe as early as "Trust."

So, it hit home in this chapter in the end when it talks about people in leadership positions who are not yet disciples.

As one of those leaders, I cannot speak to whether or not I can treat others in my shoes graciously. I'm one of the ones who need that patience.

Life is messy. Nothing ever goes in a straight line. Often, we do not get a resolution or closure. We hardly ever get what we think we want. And our relationship with God is much the same way.

When I was looking up images for this, I was struck by this one:

Stolen from a very interesting blog post.
As a graduate theology student, I didn't really care about theory unless it had some application to reality. What good is it to know the complexities of the Trinity if it has nothing to do with people's everyday life? Life needs to feed theology and theology needs to feed life. Otherwise, both are pointless.

And both are messy. We are imperfect people relating to a perfect Creator. We are imperfect people fumbling through a confusing life dealing with other imperfect people.

Like the other relationships in your life, your relationship with God will not be on a straight trajectory. That's just not how humans work. Some days you'll be on a spiritual high, some days you'll be full of doubt, most days you'll be somewhere in-between.

I'm not really stressing about the fact that I'm at the "trust" phase.* I'm still working through it. I'm not sure if I'm pining after a community that doesn't exist and I just need to get over myself. Maybe I need to find my community in the Holy Trinity and the saints. Maybe I just need to grow up and realize that adults don't bond like young adults and kids do.

The kicker in all of this is I cannot give others what I don't have. At least I'm trying to develop my relationship with God. And, as I said, I've been an intentional disciple before. Does that count for something? I think it does. I think I do have something to share even in this stage.

Leaders who are not yet disciples do need to become disciples, but they don't have to quit in the short-term. Seeing leaders struggle gives hope to us all in our struggles. I've told people before, there are things that the Church teaches that I struggle with. And those who have heard of my struggles are comforted by the fact that someone-who-has-been-studying-religion-since-she-learned-how-to-read still has trouble. As long as those who are struggling don't intentionally mislead the flock, I think there is no reason why those who are struggling cannot stay in power.

What do you think?

*For those of you following at home, the "trust" phase is the first stage of conversion where a bridge is created between the person and the worshiping community. It is characterized as such, "Many don’t trust God or the Church, by they do trust a Christian in their life." (quote from chapter 5 of Forming Intentional Disciples)

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Lumen Fidei Series

Here are links to all of the parts of the Lumen Fidei series.

Lumen Fidei #1: The Road to Nowhere

Lumen Fidei #2: Jesus is My Homeboy

Lumen Fidei #3: Created by Love, For Love

Lumen Fidei #4: God of History

Lumen Fidei #5: Idols, Idols Everywhere

Lumen Fidei #6: "Make Straight in the Wasteland a Highway for Our God!"

Lumen Fidei #7: An Absent God is not a God

Lumen Fidei #8: So Mote It Be!

Lumen Fidei #9: The Need for Knowledge

Lumen Fidei #10: Love is not an Emotion

Lumen Fidei #11: At First We See Dimly

Lumen Fidei #12: To Touch With Our Hearts

Lumen Fidei #13: It Takes Three

Lumen Fidei #14: We're All Magi

Lumen Fidei #15: Technical Jargon

Lumen Fidei #16: Share the Light

Lumen Fidei #17: Sacramental Reality

Lumen Fidei #18: Equal Opportunity Faith

Lumen Fidei #19: Let Us Build A House

Lumen Fidei #20: Courage to Love

Lumen Fidei #21: God of Creativity

Lumen Fidei #22: Why Does God Allow Suffering?

Lumen Fidei #8: So Mote It Be!

From #23: He is the same God that Isaiah will later call, twice in one verse, the God who is Amen, "the God of truth" (cf. Is 65:16), the enduring foundation of covenant fidelity.
Welcome to another interfaith lesson from your favorite convert! So, what does "amen" mean? "So be it." What does "So mote it be" mean? "So be it."

What is "So mote it be"? It the traditional ending of prayers that was used by the Freemasons and has been adopted by Neo-Pagans.

Thought to ponder: "Witches" and Christians end their prayers in the same way.*

I want to speculate on what deeper truth this similarity could point to. What does this say about God?

The quote above talks about God as "the enduring foundation of covenant fidelity."

God's covenant with Abraham
Oftentimes, we pray because we're asking for something. It really doesn't matter what religion you follow. If you believe in a deity, you're going to ask that deity for something.

God's covenant with His people was and still is a covenant of trust. The people follow and trust in God. God stays with and favors His people.

It takes a lot of trust to ask for something and consider it done. "So be it," isn't a request. It's a statement.

We are supposed to trust in God and God is completely worthy of that trust.

* I put "witches" in quotation marks because I know some followers who are insulted by that term. I used it because that is the term that most outsiders know them by.

This is part of a series of reflections on quotes from Pope Francis' first encyclical, Lumen Fidei. For the other parts, go here.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Lawn Chair Catechism #8: What Was God Thinking?

This is the 8th part of a discussion occurring right now on We are reading Sherry Weddell's Forming Intentional Disciples. It's a really interesting book and it is never too late to join us.

I skipped last week because my reflection was long and it rambled. I didn't like writing it and I didn't want to force anybody to read it. Hopefully it won't be so bad this time.

Knock on wood
Let's revisit my conversion experience. Here I was: I practicing Wiccan. I had played around with Christian symbols and I'd read some of the Bible simply to prove that the abuse I suffered from my grandfather no longer had any power over my life. I knew all about reincarnation and astrology. I meditated and I practiced yoga. I left offerings to the Goddess a couple times a day.

I walk into a Catholic Church because I had to do a paper on a religion I was unfamiliar with and I had a crush on a Catholic.

And it hits me. I feel at home although I have no idea what is going on. I feel like God/Goddess/Whomever wants me to join this Church. All I had ever heard of about this Church is that it's all about conformity. I've never conformed to anything in my life.

I was angry. I went to the sunken garden. I screamed at God and I cried. I could not understand what was going on or why.

Sunken Garden at Truman State University. Picture not taken by me, I'm not that good.
That night, I went on a walk with one of my friends who was a fallen-away Catholic. He ranted about what the Church teaches and why it's wrong. He told me that the Catholic Church was against both the death penalty and abortion. That made me pause, I had never met anyone who agreed with me on both points. I had always held a consistent life ethic and I thought I was a freak.

I still asked my RCIA teacher when we first met: "Is it okay that I still believe in reincarnation?"

So, openness to Catholicism was a huge problem for me.

Ironically, one of the first retreats I went on had the theme "Surrender." On that retreat, someone told me that I was a model of "surrender" to them. They admired me for leaving behind everything and joining the Catholic Church. This retreat happened only 5 months after my first Mass.

So, how did I do it? I don't know. I just did. People tell me from time to time that I'm a brave person. I really don't see that in myself. I just do what I need to do.

There is no doubt in my mind that God can show Himself to those who do not believe. If He can make me Catholic, He can do anything. I really don't have any advice for people who are struggling to be open. It's still a struggle for me in different areas of my life.

Pray for me and I'll pray for you.

Lumen Fidei #7: An Absent God is not a God

Cool CD cover.
From #17: Our culture has lost its sense of God's tangible presence and activity in the world. We think that God is to be found in the beyond, on another level of reality, far removed from our everyday relationships. But if this were the case, if God could not act in the world, his love would not be truly powerful, truly real, and thus not even true, a love capable of delivering the bliss that it promises.
Our Bible tells the story of people's relationship with God. Everywhere along the way from Genesis to Revelation, God intervenes on the behalf of humanity by doing thing like: saving the Israelites from slavery, helping the Israelites conquer the promised land, giving the Maccabees strength to rebel from Rome, and coming in the form of man to save us from sin and death.

But God's intervention in our lives isn't just something of history. He still intervenes every. single. day.

If you envision God as some old man in the sky who watches us intently and waits until we die to either reward us or punish us, you're not envisioning God, you're envisioning a cosmic Santa Claus.

A God who only exists out there in some netherworld who is vaguely defined and has an undefinable relationship to humanity is not the Christian God and might as well not exist at all. What use is He? How can we know He exists? What difference does His existence make?

What would be the point to religion? If we can't define God and God has no tangible relationship to us, why should we care?

But we do care. At least 90% of us in the US believe that God exists.

The Bible tells us that God is Love (1 John 4:8). We know that love exists because we love our family and friends. We endlessly seek love. God intervenes in our lives every day through those we love and those we don't particularly like.

In the quote above, Mr. Rogers is looking for love/God in the midst of tragedy. He's looking for hope through the helpers.

Our God is not some being in the sky. He's as close to us as our own family, as our very selves. That is the only God worth knowing, the only God that has any relevance. The clock-maker God is no God at all.

This is part of a series looking at quotes from Pope Francis' first encyclical, Lumen Fidei. For the other parts, go here.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Good Samaritan Today

In light of yesterday's gospel reading, I think we need a reminder of the good Samaritan stories of today.

First, there is the old woman in China living in poverty saving the babies she finds in the trash.

And, also in China, another poor woman trying to help a child who has been run over.

Here's a list of another 10 modern day good Samaritans.

Here's a video of people who returned lost money and valuables.

And here is the story of a Good Conductor who helped a young man get to say goodbye to his dying mother (warning: the story does contain a lot of British slang).

I'm noticing an overall trend in these good Samaritan stories that I'd like to briefly point out.

The good Samaritan is almost always a poor person.

People living in poverty get a bad rap nowadays with stereotypes like the welfare queen or the wino. We need reminders that when we're talking about poverty, we're talking about real people. The stereotypes are just that, stereotypes. They have little if anything to do with reality. We're all human beings. We have a lot more in common than we have differences.

Some statistics to ponder.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Lumen Fidei #6: "Make Straight in the Wasteland a Highway for Our God!"

John the Baptist
From #13: Believing means entrusting oneself to a merciful love which always accepts and pardons, which sustains and directs our lives, and which shows its power by its ability to make straight the crooked lines of our history.
 I have a pretty colorful history. When I was younger, I hung out with a different crowd. Goths, potheads, you name it! I never participated in any drinking or drugs, but I was close to people who did. We were the outsiders at school. By my senior year, we joked that I was the "mother" of the outsiders. I did have quite the protective, mama-bear attitude going around with my friends.

I would not win any prize for having the most colorful history, though. Many saints have more colorful histories than I: St. Ignatius of Loyola- the ambitious soldier, St. Francis of Assisi- the spoiled pretty boy, St. Augustine of Hippo- wine, women, and song.

God still makes radical changes in everyday lives. I've met one man who was a part of a motorcycle gang with all the worst that that can entail: drugs, crime, and hedonism. He found Jesus after having a stroke and radically changed his life.

God truly makes straight the crooked lines of our history. I remember my first time in Eucharistic Adoration. I had the overwhelming feeling that everything I've ever done, every event in my life was orchestrated to get me to that place in that moment. I felt like I had known all of the people in that chapel forever, even though I had never met them before in my life. As little sense as it has ever made to me, I truly feel I was made to be a Catholic. This is where I belong.

This is part six of a series looking at quotes from Pope Francis' encyclical Lumen Fidei. The others can be found here.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Lumen Fidei #5: Idols, Idols Everywhere!

From #13: Idols exist, we begin to see, as a pretext for setting ourselves at the centre of reality and worshiping the work of our own hands. Once man has lost the fundamental orientation which unifies his existence, he breaks down in to the multiplicity of his desires; in refusing to await the time of promise, his life-story disintegrates into a myriad of unconnected instants.

I don't wanna go to sleep
I wanna stay up all night
I wanna just screw around
I don't wanna think about
What's gonna be after this
I wanna just live right now - C'mon, Ke$ha
Above is the bridge of a current popular song. The whole song is about drinking and hooking up at a party. Now, I listen to classic rock, so I'm not going to even pretend to be a puritan when it comes to these lyrics. But I think this illustrates quite nicely what the Pope is talking about in today's quote.

Without God, without community, our life becomes disconnected. We start to live only in the moment. No, I'm not talking about the religious practice of living in the moment; the practice of giving each moment your full attention. I'm talking about immediate gratification of desires. As we do whatever we want whenever we want, we ultimately become our own idol.

I actually really like Happy Bunny, I'm looking at my desk calendar right now.

Life can't be all about you. That leads to an empty existence. Forget the afterlife or God, your current life will suffer if you worship at the altar of yourself. You'll be lost in a haze of desires and moments. You'll just live to get past the next hurtle. You'll be attached to the self. But the self is always changing, always growing. God is never changing. Don't you want to be attached to something bigger and more permanent than yourself?

This is part 5 of a series discussing parts that struck me out of Pope Francis' first encyclical, Lumen Fidei. For links to the other parts, go here.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Lumen Fidei #4: God of History

From #12: Gothic architecture gave clear expression to this: in the great cathedrals light comes down from heaven by passing through windows depicting the history of salvation. God's light comes to us through the account of his self-revelation, and thus becomes capable of illuminating our passage through time by recalling his gifts and demonstrating how he fulfills his promises.
Every year, I attempt to go to a Passover Seder. At the Seder, the experience of the Exodus is remembered. A couple years ago, I went to one where the family let me keep a copy of the book of prayers that was used. Let me share a couple of them with you so you can get a taste of what the Seder is like:
Leader says: In every generation, each of us should feel as though we ourselves had gone forth from Egypt, as it is written: "And you shall explain to your child on that day, it is because of what the Eternal did for me when I, myself, went forth from Egypt."-pg. 17
Leader says: Tonight we have told the story of our Exodus from Egypt; we tell the story to our children so that someday they will tell it to their children and to their children's children. By telling the story again and again we express our hope that each of us will be a link in the chain that stretches from G-d to Moses and Miriam, to our grandparents and our parents, to us and to our children, our hope that each of us will be a strong link in that chain that stretches from generation to generation, like hands holding hands across the years.-pg. 23
In the Passover Seder, the diners don't just remember the Exodus as some good thing that happened to their people millennia ago. It's God's action in history. It's God's intervention yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

It's like the Eucharist. The Passover Seder and the Mass both make history present. They link us with everyone who has come before and everyone who will come in the future. God isn't some clock-maker, He didn't just do good things in some distant time and then disappear. God is here. God is still working. He's never left the building.

This is part 4 of a series where I share parts of Lumen Fidei that struck me. Here are links to the others.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Lumen Fidei #3: Created by Love, for Love

From # 11: For Abraham, faith in God sheds light on the depths of his being, it enables him to acknowledge the wellspring of goodness at the origin of all things and to realize that his life is not the product of non-being or chance, but the fruit of a personal call and a personal love.
1 John 4:8 says, "Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love." We are told in the Catechism:
293      Scripture and Tradition never cease to teach and celebrate this fundamental truth: “The world was made for the glory of God.”134 St. Bonaventure explains that God created all things “not to increase his glory, but to show it forth and to communicate it,”135 for God has no other reason for creating than his love and goodness: “Creatures came into existence when the key of love opened his hand.”...
Everything was created simply because God loves. Everything from the grass, to the fish, to the duck-billed platypus, to every single individual human being. Love needs to create. Love cannot be static. It has to move, grow, and create.

We were made out of love for love.

We are all, every single one of us, without exception...
They actually sell this print on Etsy
You are not chance, you are not a product of random processes, you are handmade with love.

This is the third reflection in a series looking at Pope Francis' first encyclical, Lumen Fidei. To read the others, visit here.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Lumen Fidei #2: Jesus is My Homeboy

From #8: Faith is our response to a world which engages us personally, to a "Thou" who calls us by name.
When we pray using "thee" and "thou," we always feel so formal. I've heard people complain about certain translations of the Bible, namely the KJV, because it has so many "thee"s and "thou"s. No one speaks like that anymore.

And it is probably because no one speaks like that anymore that we've forgotten its original usage. "Thou" is actually informal. It was used in ancient times to denote familiarity, sometimes even disrespect.

So, God is a "'Thou' who calls us by name." Our relationship with God isn't supposed to be cold and formal. It's supposed to be intimate. God is our friend.

In prayer, instead of worrying about saying a memorized prayer correctly, we need to talk to God like He's our friend, like He's in the room with us.

Because God is not only a friend, He's more than a friend. He cares and loves about us more than we could ever possibly understand. He knows what is on our hearts and minds before we even tell him. But He still would like to hear it from our lips. We need to be in a relationship with Him.

And as Catholics, we have a whole host of other holy people to have a relationship with as well.

This is part 2 in a series looking at quotes that struck me in Pope Francis' first encyclical. Here is a link to the other posts.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Lumen Fidei #1: The Road to Nowhere

Here is the first installment in a series discussing Pope Francis' first encyclical, Lumen Fidei. Reading through it, there are many quotes that strike me and I want to share them with you all with a little explanation of why I like it.

From #3: "Yet in the absence of light everything becomes confused; it is impossible to tell good from evil, or the road to our destination from other roads which take us in endless circles, going nowhere." 
The analogy I often use about my conversion to the Catholic Church is this:
At first I was angry at God for calling me into this church. What was a free-spirit like me doing in a Catholic Church? But I've come to realize that I'm like the raging waters. I need river banks, otherwise I'll go everywhere, not really getting anywhere.
As the title "Light of Faith" suggests, the light that the Pope is talking about in this passage is faith. Without faith, life becomes confused. Everything becomes relative and individualistic, so there is no right or wrong. And the road to our destination with God becomes lost in all of the other options in this world.

I'm not touching the middle point there about needing faith to know right from wrong. I'm a firm believer that you do not need to be religious to be moral. Morality was never a problem for me. I was pro-life, all life, long before I was a Christian.

However, without faith, I was dabbling in everything. I was changing religious views like I changed my clothes. I didn't really have any direction in life. I had no clue what I wanted to do. I had no community, no place to call home (other than the home with my parents, of course).

As a Catholic, I have a structure and a community that is nearly 2000 years old. I have a wealth of information to read and digest, far more than I'll ever get to read in my lifetime. I can walk into a Catholic Church anywhere on the planet and be able to understand and participate in the Mass. I have a huge and diverse community to be a part of.

Sure, there are things that the Church teaches that I struggle with, just as there are things I completely embrace. Sure, I'm still looking for that close-knit community like I had at the Newman Center that seems to be sorely lacking in the 'real world.' But I view my initiation as a Catholic like a marriage. For better or worse, I'll be a Catholic until the day I die.

In December of 2004 I found the road to my destination. There will always be questions, there will always be doubts, there will be days when I'll almost regret my decision, but I'm always going to stay on my road.

Links to the rest of the series are here.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Gas Chamber Returns

In other Life news: My homestate of Missouri is threatening to bring back the gas chamber since they can't get their hands on the three-drug cocktail for lethal injection and they have a court case pending on whether or not the one-drug injection is humane.

There's nothing humane about killing a human being.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
2267    Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.
If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person.
Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm—without definitively taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself—the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically non-existent.”
In Ethics class, the professors explained it this way:
If we are in a village in the middle of nowhere and we have no way to keep the community safe from the aggressor, the death penalty is justified for the safety of the group. These circumstances are virtually non-existent in the industrialized world, so there is no reason for any industrialized nation to practice the death penalty.
I've had lots of discussions with people about the death penalty. Being a very active Catholic, many of my friends are politically conservative and have to justify some conservative ideas in light of their Catholic faith. They'll usually grant me that it's not a deterrent, that it costs more than keeping someone behind bars, and that it is not fairly applied in all cases. What they get stuck on is this: justice. Often, those facing the death penalty are convicted of murdering someone. My friends put themselves in the shoes of the victim's family. They know if someone in their family was killed, they'd want someone to pay.

There are a few ways for someone like me to approach this:

1. Ask them to put themselves in the murder's family's shoes. All that the death penalty will accomplish is the creation of two grieving families. It won't bring the victim back.

2. Ask them to consider the definition of the word "justice." The Catechism defines it as:

1807    Justice is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor. Justice toward God is called the “virtue of religion.” Justice toward men disposes one to respect the rights of each and to establish in human relationships the harmony that promotes equity with regard to persons and to the common good. The just man, often mentioned in the Sacred Scriptures, is distinguished by habitual right thinking and the uprightness of his conduct toward his neighbor. “You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.” “Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.”
They've already admitted that it is not fairly dealt out. And our judicial system isn't perfect. It's made of people, and any organization made of people is not going to be perfect. You cannot undo the execution of an innocent man.

The first part of this definition calls for the just person to respect the rights of each person. Many of my friends are against abortion; they hold that the most fundamental right is the right to life. As an unborn child has the right to life, so does everyone else.

Execution in China. China is one of only 3 countries that regularly execute more people than the US. The other three are: Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
3. A very good argument against the death penalty from a conservative perspective is this: it limits government. The death penalty is "an expression of the absolute power of the state." What gives the state the right to take life? The same people who are up in arms about death panels should be up in arms about the death penalty as well.

A fascinating article I found as I was researching for this post:

Despite Ethics Committee's Recommendations...

I really hate starting a post like this. "Despite ethics committee's recommendations..." Does anyone listen to ethics committees anymore? Ethics should not be left to the politicians.

Despite Ethics Committee's recommendations, the President of France has reaffirmed that one of his political goals is to bring voluntary euthanasia to his country. He says that this proposal "will complete and improve the (current) law which was already a step in the direction of human dignity."

What about equating value of life with how "wanted" it is? If a parent doesn't "want" a child, it is not a child and can be disposed of. If a sick person does not "want" to live anymore, their lives are disposable and worthless. It is turning life into a commodity to be created and destroyed at the whim of anyone who has the power and the will. 

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I dedicated you,
a prophet to the nations I appointed you. -Jeremiah 1:5

Even to your old age I am he,
even when your hair is gray I will carry you;
I have done this, and I will lift you up,
I will carry you to safety. - Isaiah 46:4

Friday, July 5, 2013

Lawn Chair Catechism #6: Trust

Sorry this is late, my internship with Feminists for Life has been keeping me busy. This is the sixth installment of the Lawn Chair Catechism series. It's hosted by and there are a whole bunch of other bloggers participating. We're reading this awesome book called Forming Intentional Disciples by Sherry Weddell. It's never too late to join us!

So, someone did some research on people who had conversion experiences and found that they went through 5 stages:

  1. Initial trust
  2. Spiritual Curiosity
  3. Spiritual Openness
  4. Spiritual Seeking
  5. Intentional Discipleship
This chapter has been about that first stage. As a convert, I can kinda relate to this list. My conversion really wasn't this straight forward though. She explains though, that like the cycle of grief, these stages aren't necessarily in order, people don't necessarily go through all of them, and we are all always bouncing around.  

I'd have to say the initial bridge of trust for me with the Catholic Church was at the Catholic Newman Center in college. I saw a community of people who had been Catholic their whole lives, but they were still on fire for their faith. It was a community that I fit into, where everybody knew my name and we were all inseparable.

I think that might be part of my challenge now. Now, I have to be a Catholic without that solid bridge that I had in college. Compared to college, there isn't much of a bridge for me now. I'm used to a community that I was with 24/7 in which faith infused everything we did. Now, I have to be that bridge for others. It is hard to be a bridge for others when you don't really have one yourself. Maybe I am back at that first step in the conversion journey. The researcher says that we all bounce around all of the time.

Can't give others something I don't have myself
All of that said, I don't think trust is an issue at our parish. But this is coming from someone who has been an "insider" since day one because I married the Grand Knight for crying out loud. So, I've been intimately aware of the inner workings of the parish before I even joined, when Matt and I were just dating.

But we do publish our financial reports in the bulletin. Everyone in the offices and our priest have integrity. There isn't a single meeting in the parish that isn't advertised (because, frankly, all committees are always looking for new members).

While trust isn't an issue, maybe the "being a bridge" part is. It is the same handful of people doing almost everything. I have gotten the impression that some groups in the parish are cliquish. This has been a battle in nearly every parish I've ever seen. How can you get a group of closely knit people to open up and let others in? Or do you just create the environment for other groups to form? As it has been noted in this discussion before, bigger parishes could benefit from having smaller groups there-in. While my parish isn't large by any stretch of the imagination, maybe making more groups would be easier than getting the existing groups to open up.

Do you have any thoughts on being more open?

Some people (and this goes for all groups of people, not just churches) never got the memo that we are not in high school anymore.